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AlCharihi v. United States

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 4, 2017

Mohamad Yassin AlCharihi
v.
United States of America, et al.

          PRESENT: HONORABLE JOHN F. WALTER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

          CIVIL MINUTES -- GENERAL

         PROCEEDINGS (IN CHAMBERS): ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S PETITION FOR RELEASE OF SEIZED PROPERTY [filed 10/3/16; Docket No. 1]

         On October 3, 2016, Petitioner Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi (“Petitioner”) filed a Petition for Release of Seized Property (“Petition”). On February 17, 2017, Respondents United States of America, Department of Justice, and Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) (collectively, the “Government”) filed their Opposition. Pursuant to Rule 78 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rule 7-15, the Court finds that this matter is appropriate for decision without oral argument. After considering the moving and opposing papers, and the arguments therein, the Court rules as follows:

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

On March 19, 2016, Special Agents of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) executed Search and Seizure Warrant No. 16-0589M, signed by the Honorable Jacqueline Choolijian, United States Magistrate Judge, for the search of Petitioner's residence in Palmdale, California. The search warrant directed agents to seize items constituting evidence, contraband, fruits, and/or instrumentalities of violations of 18 U.S.C. § 542 (entry of goods into the United States by means of false statements), and 18 U.S.C. § 545 (smuggling goods into the United States), including but not limited to: looted and/or stolen antiquities appearing to originate from Syria and/or Turkey, including mosaics and records related to antiquities.

         Pursuant to the search warrant, agents seized items that agents believed constituted evidence, contraband, fruits, and/or instrumentalities of the listed offenses, including the “2000 year old era mosaic of Hercules” (the “Mosaic”) that is the subject of Petitioner's Petition. On May 17, 2016, the FBI initiated administrative forfeiture proceedings against the Mosaic by sending Petitioner a notice of the seizure. In response, Petitioner submitted a claim to the FBI contesting the administrative forfeiture of the Mosaic.[1] On the second page of his administrative claim, Petitioner identified the Mosaic as a “Turkish Mosaic.” Petitioner attached a document marked as Exhibit A to the administrative claim that Petitioner represented was the invoice for the purchase of the Mosaic. The invoice appeared to be written in Turkish and English and listed the business that sold the Mosaic to Petitioner as “Ahmet Bostanci” with an address in a province in Turkey. The following statement in English appeared on the bottom of the invoice: “We Hereby declare and Certify that the contents covered by this receipt are all Turkish origin and has nothing to do whit [sic] Israel what so ever.” In addition, Petitioner submitted a copy of a Certificate of Origin as Exhibit E reflecting Turkey as the country of origin of the Mosaic.

         The FBI referred Petitioner's administrative claim to the United States Attorney's Office, which had 90 days from the date of the FBI's receipt of the administrative claim to either return the property, commence a civil judicial forfeiture action against the property, or obtain an extension of the filing deadline from the district court. 18 U.S.C. § 983(a)(3)(A). Since that time, the Honorable George H. Wu has granted three ex parte applications by the Government for extensions of the deadline for filing a civil forfeiture complaint, with a current civil forfeiture filing deadline of May 30, 2017.[2]

         II. Legal Standard

         Under 18 U.S.C. § 983(f)(1), a claimant is entitled to immediate release of seized property only if all of the five following requirements are met:

(A) the claimant has a possessory interest in the property;
(B) the claimant has sufficient ties to the community to provide assurance that the property will be available at the time of the trial;
(C) the continued possession by the Government pending the final disposition of forfeiture proceedings will cause substantial hardship to the claimant, such as preventing the functioning of a business, preventing an individual from working, or leaving an individual homeless;
(D) the claimant's likely hardship from the continued possession by the Government of the seized property outweighs the risk that the property will be destroyed, damaged, lost, concealed, or transferred if it is returned to the ...

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